The UK will press Taiwan to overhaul the way it buys medicines so that patent-protected drugs make up a greater share of its purchases, a UK minister said.
“We want them to look at the industry differently,” UK Trade Minister Gareth Thomas said in an interview. “We want British companies to have a significant presence in Taiwan and for Taiwan to get the access to the best drugs and do it in a way that’s sustainable.”
The request, to be made during a visit by Thomas next week, is meant to help UK pharmaceuticals GlaxoSmithKline Plc and AstraZeneca Plc and gain greater access to Taiwan’s market. Currently, almost all of the US$4.32 billion in medicines used annually in the island state are generics, UK officials said.
Thomas, the first UK minister to visit Taiwan since 2002, is traveling to the country as part of a trade mission to Asia that will also take him to Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Executives from the two largest UK drugmakers, as well as some from HSBC Holdings Plc and other companies will join him for parts of the trip.
After a sharp fall in the pound last year made British exports cheaper, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government is promoting trade to help counter the UK’s first recession since 1991. The pound lost 25 percent of its value against a basket of the currencies of the UK’s main trading partners in 2008.
Brown has repeatedly said that reaching a new agreement at the WTO was necessary to combat the global economic slowdown.
“What everybody had hoped for was a July agreement,” Thomas said.
That didn’t happen and then governments were “diverted by the financial crisis, which slowed technical progress,” he said.
Brown will step up his push for a global trade deal in the run up to the Group of 20 summit he is hosting in the UK on April 2.
“There is no intrinsic reason why it can’t happen,” Thomas said. “Britain is not going to be backing off on trade.”
The trip to Southeast Asia is also meant to highlight opportunities for UK companies. The region currently accounts for £9.2 billion (US$14 billion) in UK export earnings, compared with £5.22 billion for China and £4.65 billion for India, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said.
“This is one route out of recession,” Thomas said. “Companies are looking to these growth markets and not just at China and India. My job is to open doors for British business.”
In Malaysia, Thomas hopes to settle a Memorandum of Understanding on Islamic finance, encouraging investors from the country to look to London for banking services. Islamic finance is currently worth about £250 billion in revenue in the UK.